For over a century since winning the World Series in 1908, the Chicago Cubs struggled largely due to a lack of investment and commitment to create not only a team that could achieve success for one season, but could enjoy repeated success over many seasons.  Every now and then the Cubs would have a good season, only to be quickly followed by many terrible years.  That all began to change in 2009 when the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs organization and began putting the building blocks in place to create a team that would win not just one World Series as they did in 2016, but construct a franchise that is poised to enjoy repeated success for years to come.

As we work with digital agencies, we see a collection of recurring attributes among the ones that are building a company to enjoy repeated success over many years. Here are seven of the most common traits.

1. An Emphasis on their People

Agencies that experience repeated success are incredibly disciplined in the art of practicing “first who, then what,” meaning they engage in thorough hiring processes to find the best people. Successful agencies go beyond just evaluating the design or development skills of the candidate; they utilize more qualitative assessments to discover whether the person has the necessary emotional skills and motivations to make them a well-rounded team member. Once they hire great people, they don’t let them get away. What that means is they show their appreciation to their employees. They also focus on helping their employees grow as individuals — this means making sure staff members know what is expected and receive frequent coaching and feedback as part of their development process.

2. Clarity of Purpose

Agencies with repeated success are crystal clear about their reason for existing, their “why.” Such mission statements convey to staff a compelling reason to come to work each day and give their full commitment. Mission statements also serve as a filter for the organization to run potential projects against to keep the agency focused on the work that fits it best. Great purpose statements also tell prospective clients why the agency exists at its core, setting the stage for deeper partnerships. Agencies that achieve repeated success start with why.

3. Operationalized Core Values

Core values are the behaviors you want your staff to continually exhibit. Articulated and defined core values are the riverbanks of your company culture — they help protect your agency’s culture as it grows.

4. Vision-Based Strategic Plan

Sustained, enduring success doesn’t just happen. The best leaders get the vision for their company out of their head, communicate it clearly and put a plan in place to make it a reality. Successful agencies devote dedicated, uninterrupted time toward evaluating where the agency is currently, where it is headed and the plan to get there. As Abraham Lincoln said “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” The best agency owners don’t just hope for their vision, they gather their team with an outside facilitator and work together to create an actionable plan that will turn their vision into reality.

5. Business Strategy Execution

Strategy creation without execution is pointless. We often engage with agencies that have a list of strategic “to-dos” from prior meetings or annual retreats with very little follow through. A year or more quickly goes by without the time or focus to achieve these “to-dos.”  The vortex of continual client projects presents a challenging and distracting environment to create and execute a strategy. The agencies best at both strategy creation and execution engage an outside consultant to hold them accountable and keep the team focused on vision until the goals and objectives are achieved.

6. Differentiation in the Marketplace

Agencies with repeated success in the marketplace are able to swim away from the “red oceans” of competitors devouring each other, and instead are able to swim out toward the uncontested market space of “blue oceans.” This requires periodically assessing how they compete with similar agencies and putting themselves in their customers’ position to assess how differentiated the companies are. Successful agencies also ensure the following 3 strategic propositions are aligned:

  • The value proposition – the utility (benefit) your clients receive from your services, minus the price they pay
  • The profit proposition – successful agencies understand how they can effectively increase revenues and/or reduce their costs
  • The people proposition – ensures the proper motivations and incentives are in place for your staff to support the value and profit proposition

7. Innovative Culture

One of the key drivers of differentiation in the marketplace is having a culture of innovation that matches a track record of innovation. Having a creative culture is dependent on a number of the preceding traits, particularly around people and strategy. When you have the right people in the right seats committed to a unifying mission, focused on the owner’s clear vision and executing a disciplined strategy, the way is paved for creating a culture of innovation.

About The Author

Tom Barrett is a sought after strategic planning facilitator and coach to companies, teams and leaders. He is also the Co-Founder of Navigate The Journey, LLC a strategic planning and leadership development company that specializes in focusing and growing digital studios, consultancies, and agencies.

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